Washington state boy, 9, charged in shooting may testify

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2012 10:34 PM
Washington state boy, 9, charged in shooting may testify

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A 9-year-old boy charged in the accidental shooting of a classmate with a gun he said he brought to school to fend off bullies has agreed to testify against his mother on weapons offenses as part of a deal with prosecutors, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Police in Bremerton, Washington, where the shooting took place, have said the boy's mother and her boyfriend were to blame for leaving the handgun in question unattended and easily accessible for her son to take.

Arrest warrants have been issued against the couple, Jamie Lee Passmore and Douglas Bauer, accusing them of various firearms violations in connection with the case.

Under terms of an agreement reached on Tuesday in juvenile court in Kitsap County, the boy acknowledged wrongdoing in the wounding of his 8-year-old classmate, Amina Kocer-Bowman, and waived his right to a trial.

The deal requires him to remain in the custody of his paternal uncle, to submit a sample of his DNA, to avoid further contact with his mother, and to write a letter of apology to the girl and her family, court documents for the agreement show.

Moreover, he must undergo counseling and will be placed on supervised juvenile probation for a year.

The boy, who was a third-grade student at Armin Jahr Elementary School in Bremerton, Washington, about 70 miles west of Seattle, was originally charged with assault, bringing a dangerous weapon onto school grounds and unlawful possession of a firearm.

But prosecutors reduced the assault charge to a lesser offense of reckless endangerment as part of Tuesday's disposition.

Appearing in court during the proceeding, the boy admitted bringing a loaded .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol to school, where it went off in his backpack, critically wounding the 8-year-old girl.

She was listed in critical condition with gunshot wounds to her arm and abdomen immediately after the incident and has since undergone five operations. Her condition has been upgraded to serious but she remains sedated and connected to a ventilator with a bullet lodged near her spine, a spokeswoman at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle said.

'WE WANT HIM TO GET HELP'

If the boy fully complies with terms of his deal, all three charges against him can be dismissed by a judge at a court hearing set for next February.

"We believe this is an appropriate resolution to this case," Kitsap County juvenile prosecutor Todd Dowell said after the 40-minute hearing on Tuesday. "We want him to get counseling, treatment and help."

As part of the deal, the boy has promised to testify if necessary against his mother and her boyfriend, defense lawyer Eric John Makus told Reuters. The boy's agreement to cooperate with authorities in the prosecution was cited in a confidential memo between the defense and prosecutors, Makus said.

"We'll cooperate with law enforcement even if it leads to the boy testifying against his biological mother," Makus said.

Both Makus and the boy's uncle, Patrick Cochran, said the third-grader was bullied at school and brought the gun with him in his backpack for protection.

"He had threats from other students," Makus said

Cochran said Passmore, 34, and Bauer, 50, a bus driver, were vacationing together in Las Vegas on a previously scheduled trip to attend a NASCAR event.

Bremerton police said the handgun the boy took to school belonged to Bauer, and detectives believe he found it in the glove box of a vehicle his mother drove.

Police said they found two more loaded, unsecured firearms when they visited Passmore and Bauer's home -- a 9mm pistol sitting on a desk next to a computer and a 12-gauge shotgun leaning against the wall next to a nightstand.

"The boy came into possession of the weapon that was left in an open and easily accessible location on" the couple's property, police said in a statement.

Passmore, a convicted felon, faces two counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, and Bauer faces a single count of the same offense "for his culpability in the unlawful possession of a firearm by a 9-year-old boy," police said.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)